Archive for November, 2013

Should your church value “excellence”?

Posted: November 26, 2013 by efenster in Ideas
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IMAG0045Values are the underlying beliefs that cause a church to do what it does–how its spends its time, money, and energy; how it decides what to say “yes” and “no” to.  A church can adopt a vision, but if that vision isn’t supported by the necessary values, it will simply be an unrealized dream.

So what are your church’s values?  If you aren’t sure, review your Church Council agenda for this past year’s meetings.  Look at what’s on your church’s calendar.  Study your budget.

As I’ve worked with churches, I have found that excellence is frequently one of the five or so values that a church has on its list.  These churches value excellence, meaning that everything they do should be done with excellence.  For years I thought that was a healthy value for a church to have, until that premise was challenged by RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio.  You see this church had been embracing that value for years.  It invested significantly in doing every ministry with excellence, especially its weekly worship services.  As a result, it attracted thousands from its surrounding community each week.

A few years ago, the leadership of the church decided that it needed to make a significant course correction.  They realized that the church was expending about 70% of its energy in providing its weekend services, while neglecting its intentional discipleship and evangelism with those outside the church’s walls.  As a result, they decided to set a goal that the church would eventually expend only 30% of its energy in its worship services and 70% in outreach and evangelism.

Establishing Go Communities was one key outcome of this decision.  (See last week’s blog for more on these.)  Another outcome was to intentionally drop excellence as one of the church’s values because leaders knew that they couldn’t produce worship services at the same level of quality while giving them 40% less resourcing.  They had to sacrifice excellence in worship to shift the church into a much more outward-focused missional orientation.  As a result, the videos used in worship aren’t quite as good as they were, the music isn’t as polished, the equipment not quite as state-of-the-art.  And the church immediately experienced a 600 drop in weekly worship attendance.

However, by sacrificing its value of excellence, the church has been able to engage an ever-growing percentage of its members in outreach, rubbing shoulders with and discipling unchurched people in their neighborhoods.  No longer do they think of church as just the weekly worship gatherings, but also the dozens of gatherings happening throughout their community.

The church’s lead pastor, Rev. Greg Nettle, says that a church shouldn’t focus on excellence for excellence’s sake, but rather on doing everything  at the level of quality that is expected by the ministry context.  So, although God deserves us striving to do our best, striving for excellence can actually inhibit us from focusing our limited time, energy, and resources in other areas where they actually need to go.

So what role does excellence have in your church?  — Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

campus-btn-massillonAccording to Joseph Meyers in his book entitled, The Search to Belong, he says that people experience belonging in four spaces:  Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate.  According to Alex Absalom, of RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio, churches typically provide three of these four spaces as they make disciples:

  • public space –for example a worshiping congregation (100+ people),
  • social space–a missional community (20-70 people), and
  • personal space–a small group (3-12 people).

Although a church needs to provide all three, he contends that it is the middle-sized social space that is most critical for a church to provide.  In fact, he suggests that the early church, when it experienced its greatest growth, primarily functioned at that size.  Thus, it’s ironic that the present-day church typically has a much greater bias for the public and personal-sized spaces and typically is weakest in offering the social-sized spaces.

The reason this size is so effective in making disciples is that such groups usually form around some common affinity (e.g. parents with young children, they all live in a particular neighborhood, they enjoy camping, etc.), and they are large enough that unchurched persons who share that same affinity, but who are new, aren’t threatened as they would be in joining a smaller group (i.e. personal space).  For example, if you invited an unchurched (or non-Christian) to a meal in your home, they would likely find it much more anxiety producing than if you had invited them over to your house for a BBQ outside with a bunch of your neighbors.

rivertree_GCbanners_233x132In Alex’s church, these social-space sized groups are called Go Communities (Go Co’s).  They intentionally encourage people to be a part of an affinity group of 20-70 that are missional and evangelistic.  When the groups gather once or twice each month, they break into smaller personal-sized groups for a time of prayer and accountability, so small groups naturally develop as a part of their social-sized Go Co’s.  Thus, RiverTree Christian Church is actually more concerned that its members are participating in a Go Co than attending its weekly worship services.  More on that later.

So, how about your church?  How many social-sized groups to you offer?  Should that sized group become a more important part of your church’s disciple-making strategy?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Making discipleship tangible

Posted: November 8, 2013 by efenster in Ideas
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Christ's bodyEvery United Methodist Church’s mission (similar to other denominations) is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Yet, few churches really have an intentional plan to help people grow as Christ’s disciples.

Michael Frost in his book, Exiles, shares a simple discipling process using the acronym BELLS.

BLESSING – The Hebrew for ‘blessing’ (barak) means “to empower to strength”. We seek God’s blessing and pass that blessing on to others.

EATING – Sharing food has always been central to a shared life of community. We want to place worship and communion back where it began: as a providore’s delight in the middle of the shared table.

LISTENING – We believe that God is capable of speaking to us. We do not confine him to any particular medium, but we try to be attentive to his voice, wherever and whenever it speaks.

LEARN – We desire to take on the image of God and to participate in his plan. We seek out knowledge about God to help us to do this.

SENT – We are ambassadors who bear God’s image in the world. We remind ourselves regularly that we are sent to participate in God’s activity in the world.

Alan Hirsch shared at event last month that some churches have taken this acronym and quantified it into actions that churches encourage each of their members to take.  For example,

BLESSING – Each household is to intentionally bless three people each week–someone from their church, someone who’s a non-Christian, and a third person (like a neighbor).

EATING – Each household is to invite three people (or families) into their home for a meal each week.  Again, one should be from their church, a second a non-Christian, and then a third person (or family).

LISTENING – Each person spends a total of an hour each week simply listening to God–not speaking, not journaling, but just listening silently.  This could mean doing this 10 minutes five different days, 15 minutes four different days, etc.

LEARN – Each person reads every week from the Gospels, another book of the Bible, and some other book, magazine, blog, article, etc. (that are wholesome!), for the purpose of learning.

SENT – Each person ends every day with 20 minutes reflecting on how they resisted Jesus during that day and how they worked with Jesus that day.

Because such actions are clear and concrete it is more likely a church can foster deeper discipleship within their constituency, especially if they provide each person with accountability through a small group where they’re asked how they did  on a regular basis.

So, what does your church do?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Grants available…

Posted: November 1, 2013 by efenster in Resources
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6a00d8341bf73153ef0105359fa532970c-800wiThe Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church offers Church Development grants for UM churches in Indiana that are striving to reach new population groups.  If a church is starting a new worship service to reach a new population group, it can apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000.  There are also grants for churches that are relocating and for churches starting a second campus or off-site ministry.  You can learn more about all of these grants by going to the Church Development website.

Also the following grant is available from the General Board of Discipleship

Grant Applications Due in January for Local Church Racial/Ethnic Ministries

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Oct. 31, 2013 /GBOD/ – Applications for grants up to $10,000 to help local United Methodist churches build ministries that strengthen and support racial and ethnic church concerns are due on Jan. 15.

Racial Ethnic Local Church Concerns (RELCC) grants from the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) will be available for each year of the current quadrennium.

“The GBOD board of directors will act on the submissions for 2013 at their regularly scheduled meeting in March,” said Cheryl Walker, GBOD’s director of black congregational ministry.

Although the grant application deadline for 2013 is in January, beginning in 2014 and for the following two years of the quadrennium, the RELCC applications will be due each year on Nov. 1, Walker said.

The ministry/project contained in the grant application must be a project of a local United Methodist church or of the United Methodist connectional system, and also must:

•    Contribute directly to the mission and ministries of making disciples of Jesus Christ
•    Be consistent with the doctrine and social principles of the United Methodist 2012 Book of Discipline
•    Focus on developing and strengthening the racial ethnic local church for witness and mission
•    Involve racial ethnic church members in the planning, leadership and decision-making.

In addition, the ministry/project must be related to one or more of these essential services provided by the GBOD’s ministry areas:  accountable discipleship, Christian education, curriculum resources, evangelism, family and life-span ministries, lay ministries, leadership development, spiritual formation, stewardship and worship.

Priority will be given to new programs for the 2013-2016 quadrennium, rather than programs that were funded during the 2009-2012 quadrennium, Walker said. Funds are not provided for personnel and equipment.

GBOD’s mission is to support annual conference and local church leaders for their task of equipping world-changing disciples. An agency of The United Methodist Church, GBOD is located at 1908 Grand Ave. in Nashville, Tenn. Visit for more information or call the Communications Office at (877) 899-2780, Ext. 1726.
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